Pennyroyal Tea

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"Pennyroyal Tea"
A cup of tea being brewed in a cup. A spoon, biscuits and an ashtray filled with cigarette buts surround the cup. On top of the cup, blue text in block capitals reads "Nirvana" and under the cup, orange italicised text reads "Pennyroyal Tea."
Single by Nirvana
from the album In Utero
B-side "I Hate Myself and Want to Die"
Released April 1994 (original release)
April 19, 2014 (re-release)
Format CD, 7-inch vinyl
Recorded February 13–26, 1993 at Pachyderm Recording Studio in Cannon Falls, Minnesota
Genre Alternative rock
Length 03:36
Label Geffen
Writer(s) Kurt Cobain
Producer(s) Steve Albini
Nirvana singles chronology
"All Apologies"/ "Rape Me"
(1993)
"Pennyroyal Tea"
(1994)
"About a Girl"
(1994)
In Utero track listing
MTV Unplugged in New York track listing
"The Man Who Sold the World"
(4)
"Pennyroyal Tea"
(5)
"Dumb"
(6)

"Pennyroyal Tea" is a song by the American rock band Nirvana. It is the ninth track on the band's third and final studio album, In Utero (1993). The song was due to be released as the third single from In Utero in April 1994, however, after the death of Kurt Cobain in the same month, the planned release was cancelled.[1] The single was re-released as a limited edition 7 inch vinyl single for Record Store Day in April 2014 and charted at number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 Singles Sales chart.[2][3][4]

History[edit]

According to Michael Azerrad's 1993 Nirvana biography, Come as You Are: The Story of Nirvana, "Pennyroyal Tea" was written by Cobain in 1990 in an Olympia, Washington, apartment he shared with Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl. "Dave and I were screwing around on a 4-track," said Cobain, "and I wrote that song in about thirty seconds. And I sat down for like half-an-hour and wrote the lyrics and then we recorded it."[5] The band played the song live many times in 1991 and 1992. However, it did not receive studio treatment until 1993, when it was recorded by Steve Albini for the In Utero album. A remix by Scott Litt appears on the censored Wal-Mart and Kmart versions of In Utero; this remix is also available on the band's 2002 best-of compilation, Nirvana, and is, incidentally, the same mix that appeared on the single (see below).

Meaning[edit]

The herb pennyroyal is sometimes used as an abortifacient. In Cobain's Journals, which was published posthumously in 2002, there is an entry where he explains the tracks on In Utero. The explanation given for "Pennyroyal Tea" simply reads: "herbal abortive... it doesn't work, you hippie."[6]

In an interview in the October 1993 issue of Impact, Cobain gave greater insight into the song, saying that it was about a person suffering from severe depression:[7]

"When I ask Cobain if 'Penny Royal Tea' is about indigestion, he half-laughs. 'Penny royal tea is a herbal abortive,' he says. 'I threw that in because I have so many friends who have tried to use that, and it never worked. The song is about a person who's beyond depressed; they're in their death bed, pretty much.' Cobain's own bout with serious stomach pain was well documented last year. 'Yeah, it did rub off on the song,' he admits. And I couldn't help noticing the 'Canadian' reference to a Leonard Cohen afterworld. 'That was my therapy, when I was depressed and sick. I'd read things like Malloy Dies [sic] by Beckett, or listen to Leonard Cohen, which would actually make it worse,' he laughs."

In 2004 Leonard Cohen revealed to The Guardian "I'm sorry I couldn't have spoken to the young man. I see a lot of people at the Zen Centre, who have gone through drugs and found a way out that is not just Sunday school. There are always alternatives, and I might have been able to lay something on him."[8]

Release[edit]

The "Pennyroyal Tea" single was recalled shortly after the death of Nirvana band leader Kurt Cobain.[1] At the time only retail versions of the CD single made in Germany had been manufactured and distributed.[1] The singles were recalled by the record company and destroyed but some escaped destruction.[1] The obvious reason for the cancellation of the single was because one of the B-side songs had the title "I Hate Myself and Want to Die".[1] Although it may well have been cancelled anyway so that it did not seem like the record label was profiting from Cobain's death.[1] It is possible however that some copies were sold by retailers.[1] The recalled singles were destroyed in the presence of people from the record label, however distribution employees managed to put some copies aside which seems to be the main source for the copies that have survived.[1] A promotional CD single was manufactured in the United Kingdom and has survived in even smaller numbers than the German retail CD.[9] The sleeves for 7 inch vinyl singles and inserts for retail CD singles were also manufactured in the UK but the vinyl records and CD's themselves were not manufactured due to the cancellation of the single's release.[10] Artwork made in the USA and sent to the UK has been found for proposed 7 inch vinyl and even cassette singles.[11]

2014 Record Store Day re-release[edit]

On April 19, 2014 the "Pennyroyal Tea" single was re-released on 7-inch vinyl for Record Store Day 2014, limited to only 6000 copies.[12][13] It was the top-selling vinyl single of Record Store Day in the US.[4][14]

Artwork[edit]

The book In Utero by Gillian G. Gaar states that Cobain had no input into the artwork for "Pennyroyal Tea", which was scheduled for release in April 1994; the track had been remixed by Scott Litt at Bad Animals on November 22, 1993. Playing off the song's title, the sleeve pictures a cup of tea on a table, next to an ashtray filled with cigarette butts and a rooster-shaped cream pitcher, with a few animal crackers scattered around. "We got it done and I don't know that Kurt was around to approve it or not," says designer Robert Fisher. "I think it might just have been shot to management to approve or something."[15]

Music video[edit]

Director Anton Corbijn was asked to direct the video for "Pennyroyal Tea". He refused, stating that he felt he couldn't make a video better than "Heart-Shaped Box" which was the first single from the In Utero album. Jeffery Plansker then signed on as the new director. With Cobain's death, though, this was ultimately scrapped and no music video was ever released.[16]

Track listing[edit]

All songs written and composed by Kurt Cobain unless otherwise noted.

Chart positions[edit]

Chart (2014) Peak
position
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Singles Sales[2] 1
UK Catalogue Singles Chart (Official Charts Company)[17] 13
UK Rock Chart (Official Charts Company)[18] 26

Other versions[edit]

A solo, stripped down performance of "Pennyroyal Tea" appears on the acoustic MTV Unplugged in New York album. This was the only song during the MTV Unplugged performance that Kurt Cobain played solo. Kurt however does not play the guitar-solo in the MTV Unplugged version of "Pennyroyal Tea". The full band plays during the rehearsal for "Pennyroyal Tea" with Pat Smear on backing vocals available on the DVD release. An acoustic demo (recorded in 1993) appears on the 2004 Nirvana box set, With the Lights Out. The box set also includes a live version from a concert at the OK Hotel on April 17, 1991.

Personnel[edit]

All personnel credits adapted from In Utero's liner notes[19] except design personnel adapted from "Pennyroyal Tea"'s liner notes.[20]

Nirvana
Production personnel
Design personnel
  • Robert Fisher – art direction, design
  • Greg Stata – art direction, design
  • John Skalicky – photography

Accolades[edit]

Year Publication Country Accolade Rank
2004 NME United Kingdom Top 20 Nirvana Songs[21] 8
Q 12 Album Tracks That Should Have Been Singles, But Weren't[22] 2
2007 KROQ-FM United States Top 500 Songs of the '90s[23] 461

Cover versions[edit]

"Pennyroyal Tea" has been covered by the following artists:

References[edit]

Bibliography
References
  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Pennyroyal 3 - Pennyroyal Tea single. crimson-ceremony.net. Retrieved on March 10, 2013.
  2. ^ a b Record Store Day Chart Recap: Vinyl Album Sales Reach Historic High billboard.com. Retrieved 25 April, 2014.
  3. ^ Record Store Day Breaks Sales Records, Nirvana Tops Vinyl Singles yahoo.com. Retrieved 25 April, 2014.
  4. ^ a b Nirvana Top Record Store Day 2014 Best-Sellers spin.com. Retrieved 26 April, 2014.
  5. ^ Azerrad, Michael. Come as You Are: The Story of Nirvana. Doubleday, 1994. ISBN 0-385-47199-8.
  6. ^ Cobain, Kurt. "Journals". Published in 2002 by Riverhead Books. ISBN 978-1-57322-232-7.
  7. ^ Punter, Jennie. (October 1993). "In Womb." Impact. Retrieved May 28, 2010.
  8. ^ de Lisle, Tim (September 17, 2004). "Who held a gun to Leonard Cohen's head?". The Guardian (London: Guardian News and Media Limited). Retrieved 25 May 2013. 
  9. ^ Pennyroyal 3 - Penny Royal Tea promo. crimson-ceremony.net. Retrieved on March 10, 2013.
  10. ^ Pennyroyal 3 - Pennyroyal Tea UK sleeves and inserts. crimson-ceremony.net. Retrieved on March 10, 2013.
  11. ^ Pennyroyal 3 - Pennyroyal 3 - Pennyroyal Tea artwork. crimson-ceremony.net. Retrieved on March 10, 2013.
  12. ^ Record Store Day 2014 - Official List for US Stores recordstoreday.com. Retrieved 21 March, 2014.
  13. ^ Record Store Day 2014 - Nirvana - Pennyroyal Tea recordstoreday.com. Retrieved 21 March, 2014.
  14. ^ Record Store Day Breaks Sales Records, Nirvana Tops Vinyl Singles rollingstone.com. Retrieved 26 April, 2014.
  15. ^ Gaar, Gillian G. In Utero. Continuum, 2006. ISBN 0-8264-1776-0.
  16. ^ Pennyroyal 3 - Pennyroyal Tea Music Video. crimson-ceremony.net. Retrieved on March 10, 2013.
  17. ^ UK Catalogue Singles Top 40 - 26th April 2014 officialcharts.com. Retrieved 18 July, 2014.
  18. ^ 2014 Top Rock & Metal Singles Archive 3rd May 2014 officialcharts.com. Retrieved 30 April, 2014.
  19. ^ In Utero (CD). Nirvana. Geffen Records. 1993. GED 24536. 
  20. ^ Pennyroyal Tea (CD). Nirvana. Geffen Records. 1994. GED 21907. 
  21. ^ "Countdown: 20 Greatest Nirvana Songs Ever". NME. March 26, 2004. Archived from the original on February 6, 2005. Retrieved August 6, 2012. 
  22. ^ "105: Missed Hits - 12 Album Tracks That Should Have Been Singles, But Weren't". Q. 2004. Archived from the original on July 18, 2011. Retrieved October 12, 2012. 
  23. ^ KROQ Top 500 Songs of the '90s (Labor Day 2007) rocklists.com. Retrieved 14 February, 2014.

External links[edit]